In the 1970s, a leading public health scientist called bacon "the most dangerous food in the supermarket" due to its link to cancer. Four decades later, the World Health Organization classified processed meats as a group 1 carcinogen based on the conclusions of over 400 studies. You may have noticed that none of this appears to have dampened the world's enthusiasm for bacon. Unlike with, say, cigarettes—also a group 1 carcinogen—sales of bacon actually increased in some places following the WHO's warning. "We are sentimental about bacon in a way we never were with cigarettes, and this stops us from thinking straight," the Guardian reports in deep look at the dangers of bacon and how the meat industry "has for the past 40 years been engaged in a campaign of cover-ups and misdirection to rival the dirty tricks of Big Tobacco."
A major takeaway from the Guardian's reporting is that it doesn't have to be this way: We know how to make bacon that is drastically less likely to cause cancer. It comes down to chemicals called nitrates and nitrites that producers add to processed meat. While these chemicals aren't carcinogenic on their own, they become that way when they interact with components in red meat. And one French journalist calls it "pure insane crazy madness" that they're still used in foods like bacon. While the meat industry says it uses the chemicals to reduce the risk of botulism—and, they claim, because they do everything from controlling blood pressure to "accelerating wound healing"—it's actually because nitrates and nitrites dramatically speed up the process of curing meats, increasing profits. Read the full story for why science is partly to blame for our bacon eating and how a better bacon is possible. (Read more Longform stories.)